Midwest Region


September 23, 2015

Steve Lenz, 920-387-2658,
Nicole L. Van Helden, 920-634-6549,

Protection Grows for Lake Michigan’s ‘Stepping Stones’

Great Lakes Islands Added to Green Bay National Wildlife Refuge to Conserve Migratory Bird Habitat

St. Martin Island bluffs. Photo courtesy of Frykman Gallery.
St. Martin Island bluffs. Photo courtesy of Frykman Gallery.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and The Nature Conservancy today announced the expansion of the Green Bay National Wildlife Refuge to include most of St. Martin Island and all of Rocky Island in Lake Michigan, adding another 1,290 acres to the 330-acre refuge. The islands are part of the Grand Traverse chain, which extends from Wisconsin’s Door Peninsula to Michigan’s Garden Peninsula.

Representatives from The Nature Conservancy, the Luber Family and Tom Melius on St. Martin Island. Photo by Tina Shaw/USFWS.
Representatives from The Nature Conservancy, the Luber Family and Tom Melius on St. Martin Island. Photo by Tina Shaw/USFWS.

St. Martin Island map courtesy of The Nature Conservancy.
St. Martin Island map courtesy of The Nature Conservancy.

“It’s gratifying to see our shared conservation missions coming together to protect these unique Great Lakes islands,” said Tom Melius, Midwest regional director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “We couldn’t do this without a common vision among all the partners.”

“We are happy to have been part of protecting St. Martin and Rocky islands and are excited they will have a home in the National Wildlife Refuge System and be managed for the benefit of migratory birds, fish and other wildlife,” said Mary Jean Huston, director of The Nature Conservancy in Wisconsin.

Green Bay National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1912 as habitat for migratory birds and consists of the 325-acre Plum Island and the smaller Pilot and Hog Islands. With the addition of St. Martin and Rocky Islands, the refuge will increase by five times its original size.

Along with the other islands in the Grand Traverse chain, St. Martin Island is part of the Niagara Escarpment and has significant bluffs, which have rare native snails and plants associated with them. In addition to the bluffs, the island also supports forests, wetlands and an extensive cobblestone beach.

Both St. Martin and Rocky islands, along with others in the Green Bay National Wildlife Refuge, provide important stopover habitat for birds that migrate through the Great Lakes each spring and fall. On St. Martin, 43 neo-tropical migrant birds and 26 species of greatest conservation need in Michigan use the island either during migration or the breeding season or both.

These islands act as stepping stones for a wide host of migrating birds and other wildlife as they cross Lake Michigan. During their long journeys, migratory animals need places along the way to stop, eat, rest and sometimes seek shelter from storms. More than 400 plant species, including the dwarf lake iris, a federally-threatened species, have been found on the island. The broad shallow “flats” offshore of St. Martin Island are likely to be a prime area for fish spawning and reproduction.

The Nature Conservancy purchased the majority of St. Martin Island - 1,244 acres - from the Fred Luber family in 2013, and an additional 36 acres from David Uihlein, Jr. in 2014. The remainder of the island (57 acres) and the lighthouse are owned by the Little Traverse Bay Band of Odawa Indians. Ten-acre Rocky Island was donated to The Nature Conservancy in 1986.

Funding for the acquisition of St. Martin Island was provided by the Luber and Uihlein families, who generously donated a portion of the value of their lands to The Nature Conservancy, other private gifts to the Conservancy, grants from the North American Wetlands Conservation Act program and the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, and settlement funds administered by the Fox River / Green Bay Natural Resource Trustee Council.

St. Martin Island will be managed primarily for the conservation of fish, wildlife, and plants through careful planning and regulation. In accordance with the National Wildlife Refuge Improvement Act of 1997, quality wildlife-dependent recreation opportunities may be considered if they are consistent with the refuge purposes and will be evaluated to ensure unique cultural resources are protected. Until these planning activities are completed by refuge staff, general public access and all other activities will require a refuge permit.

St. Martin Island is located about five miles from Washington and Rock islands at the tip of Wisconsin’s Door Peninsula. Rocky Island is located approximately two miles off Michigan’s Garden Peninsula in close proximity to Little Summer Island.

This acquisition adds to the diversity of protected island habitat that includes: Spider, Gravel, Hog, Plum and Pilot islands (managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service), Gull and Little Gull islands (managed by the Michigan Nature Association), Rock Island (managed by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources), Poverty Island (to be managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service), land on Detroit and Washington Islands (protected by the Door County Land Trust) and Summer Island (more than half of the island is managed by the State of Michigan).

Learn more about Green Bay National Wildlife Refuge:

For images and video of St. Martin Island:

The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect the land and water on which all life depends. To date, the Conservancy and its more than one million members have helped protect 130 million acres worldwide. In Wisconsin, the Conservancy has protected more than 231,000 acres of land and water since 1960. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the web at


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Last updated: June 15, 2016